$$Is Tithing $$ $$ for Today? $$

By Richard A. Wiedenheft

Under the Old Covenant, tithing was commanded by God. In the New Covenant, tithing is...

While most Christians would agree on the first sentence, they would not agree on how to complete the second! Their emotions and sensitivities would be involved—because tithing hits right where it hurts—in the pocketbook. For that reason many people just don't talk about it, and many preachers don't preach about it—even though the Bible has much to say on the subject.

Those who seek to please God cannot ignore what the Word of God says about tithing and giving. And the issues involved for Christians go far beyond whether or not tithing is commanded in the New Testament.

Tithing By The Patriarchs

The first Biblical reference to tithing is found in Genesis 14. Abraham, after returning from a military victory, gave one tenth of the plunder to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20, Heb 7:4).

A number of years later, Abraham's grandson, Jacob, made a promise to God regarding tithing:

If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey... so that I return safely to my father's house... of all that you give me I will give you a tenth (Gen 28:20-22 [NIV throughout article]).

While these references do not prove that there was a universal tithing law before Moses, the Patriarchs' examples can hardly be taken lightly.

These men honored God with a portion of their increase! The portion they both chose to give was 10 %—a tithe. Can it be mere coincidence that when God legislated a percentage for Israel it was also 10%?

Tithing Under the Old Covenant

When Yahweh established His national covenant with Israel, He instituted a financial system designed to provide for the service of the temple and the needs of the Levites, the priests, poor people, widows and strangers.

A first tithe went to support the Levites who would, in turn, give a tenth of that tenth to the priests (Num 18:21, 28).

A second tithe or tenth was set aside to be enjoyed by the people "...in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name..." (Deut 12:6-19; 14:22-27). This tenth was to be eaten and shared with others during festivals held at the sanctuary established by Yahweh.

Deut 14:28 and 26:12 mention a tithe that was to be stored in the towns at the end of every three years. It was to be given to the Levites, aliens, fatherless and widows. The majority of Biblical scholars believe this tithe was the second tithe being used for a different purpose every three years. However, a few think it was a third tithe. The Bible itself seems ambiguous (M'Clintock & Strong Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, 1969, article "Tithe").

Questions About
Israel's Tithing System

The question about whether there were two or three tithes under the Old Covenant is only one of many controversies surrounding this subject. One major question is: On what was one to pay tithes? The first five books of the Bible mention tithing only in reference to produce and animals. Were these agricultural products the only income to be tithed? Or were they simply examples of income in general, specified because Israel was an agrarian society? Was all produce titheable? or only that which came from the Promised Land?

The debate about these and other questions will probably go on and on, but two Biblical examples seem to offer some insight:

First, Abraham tithed the booty of war and it was acceptable to God (Gen 14).

Second, the Pharisee of Jesus' day claimed, "I give a tithe of all I get" (Luke 18:12).

These examples would seem to indicate that a tithe on any type of increase was acceptable to God, who, after all, is interested in the heart and attitude, not in minimal letter-of-the-law obedience.

Jesus Comments on Tithing

The Bible records Jesus commenting on tithing only twice during his ministry. In upbraiding the Pharisees, He condemned them for tithing their garden herbs so carefully while neglecting important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. He told them they "...should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former" (Matt 23:23). His comments in Luke 11:42 are very similar.

Jesus' answer is entirely understandable. The Old Covenant was still in effect. The Levitical priesthood and the temple were in operation. Tithing was to be expected—and Jesus did not speak against it.

What about after Jesus died and was resurrected? What about after the Levitical priesthood was superseded by the high priesthood of Jesus after the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (Heb 7,8,9)? And what about Gentile Christians? Were they required to tithe, and, if so, to whom? To the Levites?

Tithing Under The New Covenant

The New Testament clearly shows that the New Covenant is indeed new—that all the legal provisions of the Old Covenant do not automatically apply in the New just because they were part of the Old. Nowhere does the New Testament directly state that Christians should begin tithing to the church instead of to the Levitical priesthood, which still existed during much of the New Testament period.

Indeed, the record indicates that Jewish Christians continued to be quite attached to Judaism. The Apostles at Jerusalem even said of Paul, "you yourself are living in obedience to the law?" (Acts 21:24). It would have been out of the question for Paul and others to have collected tithes from Jewish Christians while the temple continued in Jerusalem.

Hebrews 7 mentions tithing, but only to illustrate Paul's argument that the priesthood of the Levites was replaced by the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This chapter in no way indicates that the Old Covenant tithing law was altered so that tithes were to be paid to the church.

It is our conclusion that there is no legal requirement for Christians to tithe in accordance with the laws of the Old Covenant. No preacher or church has authority to bind tithing, as a law of God, on Christians (although any organization can include tithing as one of its own requirements for membership).

Does this mean that tithing has no importance for Christians?

Absolutely not!

God required Israel to pay 10% of its increase to support a physical, temporal ministry. How much more should Christians willingly dedicate 10% and more of their income to a spiritual ministry, to the gospel of Jesus Christ!

All Israel was required to pay tithes, firstfruits, firstlings, vows, offerings—out of duty to God, how much more should we be willing to give voluntarily a free-will tithe out of faith and love for God and man!

What About Generosity and Christian Liberty?

While the New Testament does not teach tithing as a legal requirement, it does have a great deal to say about the principles of generosity, sacrificial giving and freewill offerings. Note the following very direct and powerful passages about Christian financial responsibilities:

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously... God loves a cheerful giver (2Cor 9:6).

If a man's gift is...contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously... (Rom 12:7-8)

Command those who are rich in this present world...to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure...for the coming age (1Tim 6:17-19).

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Heb 13:16).

...you sent me aid again and again when I was in need...I am amply supplied, now that I have received... the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (Phil 4:16-18).

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap (Luke 6:38).

As Jesus observed people putting money into the temple treasury, His disciples were surprised when He compared the great sums put in by the rich to the few coins given by a widow. "'I tell you the truth,' he said, 'This poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on'" (Luke 21:1-4).

The New Testament is plain indeed. God considers giving a sacrifice to Him as a sweet smelling offering in heaven. He looks on the heart and the attitude of the giver. He looks for cheerfulness and generosity, not just for a percentage.

But what is generosity?

What is generosity according to God's Word?

Our society has become so affluent, so materialistic, so conditioned by mass media, that we have drifted far from the concept of generosity portrayed in the Bible. We have come to regard so many of life's luxuries as necessities. We have full closets, toy boxes, garages, basements and refrigerators—but how full is our treasury laid up in heaven (Luke 18:22)? How much do we contribute regularly to the needs of others and to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Consider, for a moment, some of the things we spend money on: amusements, cable TV, cosmetics, eating out, fancy homes, hobbies, interior decorating, liquor, movies, music lessons, new clothes, pet care, records & tapes, vacations, video games, etc.

Many would argue that there is nothing wrong, necessarily, with any of these and many other similar items, but where does God fit in?

Does He come first? Or ... does He get what's left over—if there is anything left over?

Does giving to Him come at the top of our priority spending list—or somewhere down with hobbies, pet care and music lessons?

The truth is that God demands to come first in every aspect of our lives—including finances. And if giving to Him has no significant impact on our budget, we have a serious problem—and we really don't know what generosity is all about! &

Is This Heresy?

Many Sabbath-keepers have been taught that tithing was an eternal law like the Sabbath—it always existed; only the priesthood which received the tithes changed. They usually believe they have Biblical proof that tithing is an eternal law, but they have no proof when and how tithing changed from the Levitical priesthood to the New Testament priesthood!

The New Testament priesthood is all of the brethren (1Pet 2:5,9). No scripture says the "ministry" is the priesthood. There is neither scripture nor history indicating that tithes were collected by "the church" until hundreds of years after the apostles. Nevertheless, we find a great variety of other methods mentioned in the Bible for financing New Testament preaching.

Are all the tithes sent to big organizations to preach the Gospel paid in vain? No! When money is really used to preach and teach— not to buy opulent cars, houses, meals or airline tickets—then it is well worth it.

If people are not required to tithe, will there be sufficient money for any group to do "a big work"? Yes! They will often give much more than a tithe. People voluntarily sold their houses and possessions in order to start the first "big work" (Acts 4:24-27). Our Savior told one man that he would have to sell nearly everything he had to become perfect (Matt 19:21).

The other issue many brethren are facing today is: Where to give? If you believe that the Eternal works through only one human organization, then the answer is simple. But now, most brethren realize that they are individually accountable for the work they do (1Cor 3:13)—if a man gives to a group that accomplishes nothing, then he accomplishes nothing for the Eternal.

The article at left was written in 1984 by Richard Wiedenheft, a former WCG minister. It shows that the understanding existed then, but few people listened. Wiedenheft has continued to serve in Sabbath-keeping congregations since that time, and is now the principal of a Sabbath-keeping boarding high school (call 517-725-2391 for information).

For a detailed study of tithing and giving in the Bible, ask for our free paper: How Do We Give To the Eternal? —NSE

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